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Freedom…

June 18, 2016

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Last night, after another full day, we decided to take a sunset drive into the Rocky Mountain National Park. Even though we didn’t quite make it in time to get sunset photos, Rocky didn’t disappoint us. Driving through Moraine Park, I took the above picture of Rocky Mountain Loco growing on the side of the road. With the moon in the distance and the park relatively quiet, we sat for a few moments to soak in the peacefulness of the scene.

After that, we drove over to the Alluvial Fan where I had hoped to get some pictures of the water cascading down over the rocks and sediment left from the 1982 Lawn Lake Flood. Unfortunately, it was dark enough that pictures weren’t going to happen. But as we climbed over rocks and along the remains of the trail, the peacefulness of the scene was tinged with pain.

As we read about the flood, I was overwhelmed with the chaos that must have erupted as the terminal moraine which had dammed up Lawn Lake since the last ice age gave way and 29 million gallons of water swept down to the valley floor and on into Estes Park. Three people lost their lives in the flooding in the Park, but thanks to the warning a trash collector gave to the park rangers, many lives were saved when Aspenglen campground was evacuated by the park rangers.

The Gospel and Epistle readings for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost speak to me of chaos and freedom in a strange sort of way. Let’s first examine the Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus and the disciples arrived in the country of the Gerasenes which was opposite Galilee. As they stepped out of the boat, a man was there to “greet” them. Now this fellow wasn’t exactly the local welcome wagon. One look and you knew that he was a troubled individual. He was dirty and naked and full of demons! For a long time he had lived not in a house, but in the tombs.

As seems to always be the case, the demons recognized Jesus for who he was. After Jesus commanded the demons to leave, the demons cried out: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” (Luke 8:28b)  This man was clearly held captive by a powerful force. The force had a name… Legion… this was a first rate, incredibly powerful possession.

This man continually lived in the sort of chaos that was unleashed when the dam broke and the flood waters poured into the valley. His life was a mess. He lived in the tombs. The locals tried to keep him in chains but he always broke free. Yet, while he could break free from the physical chains that bound him, he was unable to break free from the spiritual chains that bound and tormented him. This man could never be truly free as long as he was held captive by the Legion of demons.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that this poor fellow had a legion of demons living inside of him, he wouldn’t be able to get away from the labels he had acquired over the years. Personally, I think that is a major part of the reason that after Jesus healed him, he wanted to leave town! After all, when the crowd came across him dressed and in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus, they were afraid!

Afraid? Seriously? Your poor neighbor has been ranting and raving for years in the cemetery. You have chained him down only to have him break the chains. And now, when you see him in a normal frame of mind sitting at the feet of the one who cast the demons into the herd of swine, you are afraid? I am certain that many had never seen the fellow in a non-crazed state of mind and spirit.

Were they afraid that he was only temporarily sane? Were they afraid that the demons would come back with a vengeance? Were they afraid that the order of life that they were used to had just been turned upside down? Were they afraid that they would have to treat him like a normal human being?

Fear can be as big a threat to decency and the common life as any demon. In fact, I would say that fear is a demon as big as a Legion! All you have to do is listen to crackpots like the Westboro Church who are ginning up their fear and bigotry machine as arrangements are made to bury the victims of the horrific massacre at The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando or even the funeral for the poor kid who was killed by an alligator near Disney World. Those aren’t the only examples of the demons of fear and hate though.

Listen to Donald Trump and his minions… talk about unchained bigotry, racism, xenophobia, misogyny hatred, fear, and evil! What this man and his group of followers has unleashed is nothing less than a Demonic Legion of hate! All they want to do is build a damned wall to keep out anybody who isn’t just like them. Frankly, they are just as bad as the terrorists who have hijacked the religion of Islam and bent it to their own perverse agenda. Like the dam break in 1982 which unleashed a horrific torrent of water, this movement has unleashed a torrent of hatred. This torrent has bastardized a political process and laid waste to many decent individuals who have been drowned in the putrid waters of their hate.

So what are we to do in light of this movement? Frankly, it would be easy to run away. But, like the fellow from Gerasenes, I believe Jesus calls us to stay in the fray. Jesus wanted this fellow to stay and make a difference in the community. And as he spread the news of what Jesus did for him, I am certain that he gave hope to many who were in their own chains. This fellow not only received freedom, he proclaimed it!

The freedom that I sense from this passage and from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia are connected. The chains of possession were broken and the legion of demons were destroyed. Freedom was given to the fellow who had been possessed and he used that freedom to share the good news! The good news that Paul was sharing with the church in Galatia was also about freedom. In the early church, there were harsh and impenetrable walls built between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, the Pharisee’s Pharisee, received his mission from the Lord to break down those walls.

The key to that mission is found in the following verses: “…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

Dear reader, we are called to a mission that is different from what is currently being spewed 24/7 from the mouths of hatemongers. If, as a Christ follower, I am so concerned about sharing the love of God in Christ, then I should be doing my part to break down the barriers of hatred that are dividing us. Speaking words of peace and not division. Speaking words of love and not hate. Seeing in the face of another my sister, my brother… not someone to despise. Yes, to even see those who are causing so much turmoil in the world as God’s children.

I don’t think it is going to be easy at all… but it is a mission that we must embrace… to share and to live out the love of God in this world where love seems to be in short supply and hatred is, like the demon, the size of a Legion! Will you join with me in the seemingly crazy task of speaking against hate and for love? God help us, but the only chance for this world is if the Love of God can overcome hatred and fear. Only then will we know true Freedom! God help us, but Love Must Win!

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